Monday, July 04, 2005

U.S. v. Bravo-Muzquiz (9th Cir. - June 16, 2005)

Poor guy. Bravo-Muzquiz becomes a temporary resident alien in 1988 and annually renews his registration, but eventually his renewal is denied and he becomes illegal in 1995. In October 2001, he has the misfortune of being grabbed up at the Temecula checkpoint (here in sunny San Diego) because he's nervous. What's even more of a bummer for him is that he apparently took a gun safety course and keeps a "Basic Gun Safety" card in his wallet. Silly rabbit! 'Cause there's a law against being an alien in possession of a firearm. So now Bravo-Muzquiz is not only looking at being deported, but is also looking at doing time. The old double whammy.

Of course, Bravo-Muzquiz would have avoided all this if he hadn't taken a gun safety course or kept a safety card in his wallet. Oops. Plus, Bravo-Muzquiz didn't actually have a weapon when he was caught, so he wasn't actually guilty at the time. But because he had that Gun Safety Card, that gave probable cause to search his house. The crazy thing is, the police didn't search his house until two months after Bravo-Muzquiz was caught at the Temecula checkpoint. And apparently, when he was caught, Bravo-Muzquiz did not, in fact, have any weapons.

But, four days before Christmas, the police finally decide to search his house. (Nice timing, by the way. "Ho ho ho! It's not Santa Claus! It's the cops!") In the meantime, Bravo-Muzquiz had secured his release from detention by posting an immigration bond. Which, he thought, meant that he was permissibly in the country, at least pending the conclusion of his removal proceedings. And the documentary evidence reveals that the day after he got out of detention pursuant to the immigration bond, he picked up -- for the very first time -- a handgun that he had purchased on layaway. Which -- as luck would have it -- was in his house on December 21, 2001, when the police conducted the search. Ouch. So that's why they bust him for being an unlawful alien in possession.

Bravo-Muzquiz says that he thought he was cool to have the gun because he only got it once he was "legal," as he only picked it up once he was out on an immigration bond. For this reason, he claims, he was not an alien "illegally or unlawfully in the United States," which are the only people who aren't allowed to possess guns under the statute. But Judge Hug disagrees, and affirms his conviction. So it's prison, and then deportation, for Bravo-Muzquiz.

Yeah, yeah, ignorance of the law is no excuse. But there are some strong cases that support Bravo-Muzquiz' interpretation of the statue. I hate to see a guy go to the joint because he thought that what he did was legal. We all can't be lawyers and read the statutes. And even if we could, we certainly can't exect laypeople like Bravo-Muzquiz to parse precedent in the manner performed by Judge Hug. Maybe he's in fact guilty. But I can definitely see why he thought he wasn't. And you've got feel at least a bit bad for sendng people to jail under such circumstances.